Covering about 19,000 acres, Cumberland Island is Georgia’s largest and southern most barrier island and is mostly a federal park. Access is only by passenger (no vehicles other than bicycles) ferry from St. Mary’s (Georgia) and there are no paved roads. (There is one private hotel, The Greystone Inn, with it’s own ferry from Fernandina Beach.)
My first visit to Cumberland was in the late 80’s and I’d not returned since then. So when my brother called and said he was going to be in St. Simon’s Island for a week on business and to come visit, I suggested we spend a day at Cumberland island since he was only about 45 miles from St. Mary’s.
The ferry ride to Cumberland island is about 45 minutes. On my first visit, we lucked out and saw wild horses galloping along the beach as the ferry approached the Cumberland dock. Not this time…
Although you can bring bicycles onto the ferry and a limited number are available for rent at the Cumberland dock, bicycles are problematical. Since there are no paved roads, riding a bicycle in sandy soil is tricky business and you cannot travel as fast as on a hard smooth surface. So we walked, but with only one day you are limited to covering the southern portion of the island near the dock. The good news is that the southern end is where the good ruins are and also beach access.
The main ruins on the island are the Dungeness mansion, which saw several famous owners of the property. These included James Oglethorpe, who established the Georgia colony; revolutionary War hero Nathaniel Greene, and Henry Lee, Revolutionary War cavalry officer and father of Robert E. Lee. Henry Lee lived in the house until his death in 1818 and is buried in a nearby cemetery.
During the Civil War, the house was abandoned and then burned. In the 1880’s, the [property was purchased by Thomas Carnegie, brother of Andrew Carnegie, who began building a 59-room mansion. Thomas died before the mansion was completed but his wife lived there and since the Carnegie family owned 90% of the island, other relatives had homes there too. What is now the Greystone Inn was built for one of the Carnegies. In 1959, the Dungeness mansion burned, was abandoned and then acquired by the National Park Service in the 70’s.
The mansion is surrounded by other buildings, such as a stable and servant quarters. We had a picnic lunch on the grounds with food we brought with us.
From the mansion we headed north to the beach on the eastern shore, near the ferry dock on the western shore.
On the return from the beach to the ferry dock, we had company…
One of his friends was also hanging out at the ferry dock.
For more information about Cumberland island, visit the National Parks Service website for the island: https://www.nps.gov/cuis/index.htm